The George Town Literary Festival 2011 - A Storybook Success

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Notes from a small island
Muhammad Haji Salleh, the National Laureate, spoke at length on the linguistic peculiarities he found so interesting. “…English as a language is not so romantic, but more romantic than German! The Malay language ebbs and flows like the sea. Perhaps as a result of living by the sea.”

Unravelling the “photoshopped ideal” of the mainstream interpretation of Malaysian history, Farish Noor observed that history “needed to reflect honesty.” “It is a recurrent lament throughout South- East Asia that people don’t feel that they are reflected in the ‘national album’. Generations are asking ‘Where am I in national history?’” When asked about Penang’s “album” he compared it to Deep Purple’s second album. “…productive ambiguity, I hope there’ll never be a definitive album (for Penang). The moment that happens, there is a full stop!”

In November 2011, the weekend-long inaugural George Town Literary Festival got underway. It is indeed hard to believe that the 225-year-old city had never hosted a lit fest before.

Better late than never, no doubt, and the cosy festival with its mix of intellectual heavyweights and new authors was a well-organised, entertaining affair (I even bumped into an old friend based in Hong Kong, who had made the journey home just to attend the Festival).

Under the theme of “History & Heritage: where are our stories?”, the five authors – Farish Noor, Iskandar Al-Bakri, Muhammad Haji Salleh, Shih-Li Kow and Tan Twan Eng – read excerpts from their work before gamely tackling questions from the enthusiastic audience.


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